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Mobile IP Overview

In IP networks, routing is based on stationary IP addresses. A device on a network is


reachable through normal IP routing by the IP address it is assigned on the network. When
a device roams away from its home network, it is no longer reachable by using normal IP
routing.
This results in the active sessions of the device being terminated. Mobile IP enables users to
keep the same IP address while traveling to a different network, ensuring that a roaming
individual can continue communication without sessions or connections being dropped.
Because the mobility functions of Mobile IP are performed at the network layer rather than
the physical layer, the mobile device can span different types of wireless and wire line
networks while maintaining connections. Remote login, remote printing, and file transfers
are examples of applications where it is desirable not to interrupt communications while
an individual roams across network boundaries. Also, certain network services, such as
software licenses and access privileges, are based on IP addresses. Changing these IP
addresses could compromise the network services. A device that can roam while appearing
to a user to be at its home network is called a mobile node.

Examples of mobile nodes include: a personal digital assistant, a laptop computer, or a


data-ready cellular phone—that can change its point of attachment from one network or
subnet to another. This mobile node can travel from link to link and maintain
communications using the same IP address. There is no need for any changes to
applications, because the solution is at the network layer, which provides the transparent
network mobility.
Mobile Networks feature comprises three components—the mobile access router (MR),
home agent (HA), and foreign agent (FA). Figure shows the three components (mobile
access router, home agent, and foreign agent) and their relationships within the mobile
network.

The mobile access router functions similarly to the mobile node with one key difference—
the mobile access router allows entire networks to roam. For example, an airplane with a
mobile access router can fly around the world while passengers stay connected to the
Internet. This communication is accomplished by Mobile IP aware routers tunneling
packets, which are destined to hosts on the mobile networks, to the location where the
mobile access router is visiting. The mobile access router then forwards the packets to the
destination device. These devices can be mobile nodes without Mobile IP client software.
The mobile access router eliminates the need for a Mobile IP client. The mobile access
router “hides” the IP roaming from the local IP nodes so that the local nodes appear to be
directly attached to the home network. A home agent is a router on the home network of
the mobile access router. It provides the anchoring point for the mobile networks. The
home agent maintains an association between the home IP address of the mobile access
router and its care-of address, which is the current location of the mobile access router on a
foreign or visited network. The home agent is responsible for keeping track of where the
mobile access router roams and tunneling packets to the current location of the mobile
network. The home agent also inserts the mobile networks into its routing table.

A foreign agent is a router on a foreign network that assists the mobile access router in
informing its home agent of its current care-of address. It functions as the point of
attachment to the mobile access router, delivering packets from the home agent to the
mobile access router. The foreign agent is a fixed router with a direct logical connection to
the mobile access router. The mobile access router and foreign agent need not be
connected directly by a wireless link. For example, if the mobile access router is roaming,
the connection between the foreign agent and mobile access router occurs on interfaces
that are not on the same subnet. This feature does not add any new functionality to the
foreign agent component.
Mobile IP Process
The Mobile IP process has three main phases.
• Agent Discovery—A mobile node discovers its foreign agents and home agents during
agent discovery.
• Registration—The mobile node registers its current location with the foreign agent and
home agent during registration.
• Tunneling—A reciprocal tunnel is set up by the home agent to the care-of address
(current location of the mobile node on the foreign network) to route packets to the mobile
node as it roams.

Agent Discovery
During the agent discovery phase, the home agent and foreign agent advertise their
services on the network by using the ICMP Router Discovery Protocol (IRDP). The mobile
node listens to these advertisements to determine if it is connected to its home network or
foreign network.

The IRDP advertisements carry Mobile IP extensions that specify whether an agent is a
home agent, foreign agent, or both; its care-of address; the types of services it provides,
such as reverse tunneling and generic routing encapsulation (GRE); and the allowed
registration lifetime or roaming period for visiting mobile nodes. Rather than waiting for
agent advertisements, a mobile node can send out an agent solicitation. The solicitation
forces any agents on the link to immediately send an agent advertisement.
If a mobile node determines that it is connected to a foreign network, it acquires a care-of
address. Two types of care-of addresses exist:
• Care-of address acquired from a foreign agent
• Collocated care-of address
A foreign agent care-of address is an IP address of a foreign agent that has an interface on
the foreign network being visited by a mobile node. A mobile node that acquires this type
of care-of address can share the address with other mobile nodes. A collocated care-of
address is an IP address temporarily assigned to the interface of the mobile node. A
collocated care-of address represents the current position of the mobile node on the
foreign network and can be used by only one mobile node at a time.
When the mobile node hears a foreign agent advertisement and detects that it has moved
outside of its home network, it begins registration.
Registration
The mobile node is configured with the IP address and mobility security association (which
includes the shared key) of its home agent. In addition, the mobile node is configured with
either its home IP address, or another user identifier, such as a Network Access Identifier.
The mobile node uses this information along with the information that it learns from the
foreign agent advertisements to form a Mobile IP registration request. It adds the
registration request to its pending list and sends the registration request to its home agent,
either through the foreign agent or directly if it is using a collocated care-of address and is
not required to register through the foreign agent. If the registration request is sent
through the foreign agent, the foreign agent checks the validity of the registration request,
which includes checking that the requested lifetime does not exceed its limitations, the
requested tunnel encapsulation is available, and that reverse tunnel is supported. If the
registration request is valid, the foreign agent adds the visiting mobile node to its pending
list before relaying the request to the home agent. If the registration request is not valid,
the foreign agent sends a registration reply with an appropriate error code to the mobile
node.

The home agent checks the validity of the registration request, which includes
authentication of the mobile node. If the registration request is valid, the home agent
creates a mobility binding (an association of the mobile node with its care-of address), a
tunnel to the care-of address, and a routing entry for forwarding packets to the home
address through the tunnel. The home agent then sends a registration reply to the mobile
node through the foreign agent (if the registration request was received via the foreign
agent) or directly to the mobile node. If the registration request is not valid, the home agent
rejects the request by sending a registration reply with an appropriate error code.

The foreign agent checks the validity of the registration reply, including ensuring that an
associated registration request exists in its pending list. If the registration reply is valid, the
foreign agent adds the mobile node to its visitor list, establishes a tunnel to the home agent,
and creates a routing entry for forwarding packets to the home address. It then relays the
registration reply to the mobile node. Finally, the mobile node checks the validity of the
registration reply, which includes ensuring an associated request is in its pending list as
well as proper authentication of the home agent. If the registration reply is not valid, the
mobile node discards the reply. If a valid registration reply specifies that the registration is
accepted, the mobile node is confirmed that the mobility agents are aware of its roaming. In
the collocated care-of address case, it adds a tunnel to the home agent. Subsequently, it
sends all packets to the foreign agent.

The mobile node reregisters before its registration lifetime expires. The home agent and
foreign agent update their mobility binding and visitor entry, respectively, during
reregistration. In the case where the registration is denied, the mobile node makes the
necessary adjustments and attempts to register again. For example, if the registration is
denied because of time mismatch and the home agent sends back its time stamp for
synchronization, the mobile node adjusts the time stamp in future registration requests.
Thus, a successful Mobile IP registration sets up the routing mechanism for transporting
packets to and from the mobile node as it roams.
Tunneling
The mobile node sends packets using its home IP address, effectively maintaining the
appearance that it is always on its home network. Even while the mobile node is roaming
on foreign networks, its movements are transparent to correspondent nodes. Data packets
addressed to the mobile node are routed to its home network, where the home agent now
intercepts and tunnels them to the care-of address toward the mobile node. Tunneling has
two primary functions: encapsulation of the data packet to reach the tunnel endpoint, and
decapsulation when the packet is delivered at that endpoint. The default tunnel mode is IP
Encapsulation within IP Encapsulation. Optionally, GRE within IP can be used.

Typically, the mobile node sends packets to the foreign agent, which routes them to their
final destination, the Correspondent Node
However, this data path is topologically incorrect because it does not reflect the true IP
network source for the data—rather; it reflects the home network of the mobile node.
Because the packets show the home network as their source inside a foreign network, an
access control list on routers in the network called ingress filtering drops the packets
instead of forwarding them. A feature called reverse tunneling solves this problem by
having the foreign agent tunnel packets back to the home agent when it receives them from
the mobile node

Mobile IP or DHCP
New devices and business practices, such as PDAs and the next generation of data-ready
cellular phones and services are driving interest in the ability of a user to roam while
maintaining network connectivity. The requirement for data connectivity solutions for this
group of users is very different from the fixed dial-up user or the stationary wired LAN
user. Solutions must accommodate the challenge of movement during a data session or
conversation. IP routing decisions are based on the network prefix of the IP address. All
nodes on the same link share a common network prefix. If a node moves to another link,
the network prefix does not equal the network prefix on the new link. Consequently, IP
routing would fail to route the packets to the node after movement to the new link.

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is commonly used in corporate


environments. DHCP allows a server to dynamically assign IP addresses and to deliver
configuration parameters to nodes. The DHCP Server verifies the identity of the node,
leases it the IP address from a pool of addresses for a predetermined period of time, and
reclaims the address for reassignment when the lease expires. The node can terminate
existing communication sessions, move to a new point of attachment to the network,
reconnect to the network, and receive a new IP address from DHCP. This conserves IP
addresses and reduces Internet access costs. However, if users are mobile and need
continuous communications and accessibility, DHCP is not an adequate solution. DHCP
does not allow applications to maintain connections across subnet-to-network boundaries.
Mobile IP does not drop the network prefix of the IP address of the node, which is critical to
the proper routing of packets throughout the Internet, and providing continuous
connectivity.